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In Youngstown, We Make Steel (1803-1977)

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PART ONE (For Part Two, see http://www.urbanohio.com/forum2/index.php/topic,17136.0.html)


Strangers, riding through Youngstown at night, are startled and thrilled by a terrifying spectacle. Flames suddenly leap to the sky, throwing the outlines of the city into relief. As they watch, spellbound, the train thunders past miles of mills where thousands of men are turning out thousands of tons of steel. For the skyward leaping flames are the familiar nightly symbol of the city's activity. Youngstown is one of the great steel centers of the world.

-- 1931 magazine advertisement, "Youngstown, City of Homes"



Once upon a time, there existed a great manufacturing city that epitomized the United States as a great industrial empire. In this city, they made things. But these man-made things didn't come out in shapes that most people would recognize. In Youngstown, they made raw steel which went into things most people did recognize -- cars, trains, buses, bridges, girders for skyscrapers and little things like toasters, beer cans, toys and even paper clips. Back then, nearly everything was made from steel. And Youngstown made a lot of it. At its peak in the 1950s, the Mahoning Valley was, by volume, the fourth-largest steel producing region in the United States. By virtue of America's economic standing in the industrial world, that made Youngstown one of the most productive steel-producing regions on the planet.


In 1844, a great vein of coal was discovered at Brier Hill on the near-north side of a small village named Young's Town. Over the next 30 years, eleven furnaces for making iron and steel were built in Youngstown and another 10 furnaces in surrounding areas. They burned this coal, called Brier Hill Black, and brought in by train iron ore, limestone and dolomite to mix in superheated blast furnaces. The end product was molten steel.


One of the earliest photographs of Youngstown, likely shot in the 1850s:



Brier Hill already was a heavily industrialized area in 1900, thanks to the rich coal deposits found beneath it:



And so they sprouted. Steel mills of all shapes and sizes and purposes. This is Youngstown Sheet & Tube's East Youngstown Works (called the Campbell Works after 1926) with its fourth and final blast furnace under construction in 1913. It would last 64 years:




And the steel mills got bigger:















Mills like this Republic Steel complex grew next to residential areas. This mill, viewed east from Market Street, was next to downtown (this is where the Chevrolet Centre is today):



And the immigrants came, including this Italian family. They came to work. They came to raise families. They came to Youngstown, and in such large numbers that in the 1910s one-third of all city residents were foreign born:



New cities grew up around the steel mills. Campbell was one of those, built by the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co., Ohio's largest employer in the early 1900s (click on image and scroll right):



It isn't figurative speech to say the steel mills created neighborhoods and cities. It's actually quite literal. Steel companies had real estate subsidiaries that built homes for employees and in the case of MacDonald, Ohio (NW of Youngstown), US Steel built the entire town, including its city hall, fire/police station and parks. But the Buckeye Land Co. was a subsidiary of the YS&T -- though obviously not a believer in equal housing opportunities:



This is some of the YS&T's company-built housing, constructed by its Jackson Street Co. subsidiary in 1917. These homes were exclusively rentals and for low-skilled, low-paid workers -- primarily newly arrived immigrants from eastern and southern Europe:



The next level up housing-wise was the YS&T's Highview Plat, under construction here in 1919. The Highview Plat offered detached homes available for either purchase or rent. They were available for rent at $25 per month or for purchase for $3,000-$5,000. These homes had five to six rooms with pine floors and trim, and the modern day amenities of indoor plumbing, electricity and heat.



The Loveland Farms development was the most exclusive of the Sheet and Tube housing developments, only offering homes to skilled workmen, foremen and superintendents. This some of the first newly constructed homes at Loveland Farms in 1919, just west of the plant atop the valley and north of Midlothian. Loveland Farms had many amenities such as parks, playgrounds and sports teams. Loveland Farms grew so quickly that it soon offered its own post office sub-station as well as a public school, the Buckeye School, for the children of its residents. Can you imagine Wal-Mart doing this?



The city's wealth from its burgeoning steel industry was evident in this magazine advertisement from 1931. Yes, even during the Great Depression, the city touted its wealth:



In the largest steel mill complexes, called integrated mills, molten steel was shaped into sheets/rolls or bars or tubes. Some of these integrated mills became so large by the early 20th century that they were measured in square miles and employed as much as 10,000 people -- per mill. This is Youngstown Sheet & Tube's Campbell Works, an integrated mill (SCROLL RIGHT):



There were certainly tough times, too. One of the most difficult was the 1937 "Little Steel" strike which turned violent. Two died in Youngstown but the more violent clash occurred at South Chicago. Here, workers pour out of the massive YS&T Campbell Works through the South Gate (at Poland Avenue and Walton Street) on the Struthers side of the Mahoning River:



The violence of the strike was about getting smaller steel companies like YS&T to recognize the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (predecessor of the United Steel Workers). US Steel already recognized the union. It wouldn't be until 1942 when "Little Steel" was forced by the US Government to accept the union to avoid work stoppages of wartime production. The violence of the 1937 strike was depicted in this painting by William Gropper on display at the Youngstown's fine Butler Institute of Art:



Yet the steel kept coming and the mills kept growing, feeding the growing numbers of consumers and, during World War II, a massive war machine:





















Howard Fogg's artwork captured the power of the region's industrial might and its close relationship with railroads in the 1940s into the 60s:



The Center Street area:



Furnaces of U.S. Steel's Ohio Works (west of downtown) were linked by the company owned Youngstown & Northern Railway over several miles to U.S. Steel's MacDonald rolling and stamping plant, making it an integrated facility:



YS&T's Brier Hill Works (across the river from USS's Ohio Works):



YS&T's Campbell Works:



Some sections of the city were nothing but steel mills for without them the city would look like vast swaths of countryside. This industrial domination was prevalent in the Mahoning Valley where access to river water was important in the steelmaking process. Looking southeast over Campbell toward Struthers, the YS&T Campbell Works is on the left and Republic Steel's Youngstown District is on the right edge:



A small glimpse of part of U.S. Steel's massive Ohio Works (once called the Carnegie Illinois Steel Co.):



Looking northwest toward Center Street and downtown, with the Republic mill on the left and the YS&T Campell works on the right. The Jones & Laughlin mill is in the distance between them:



Of course, the business of its industries directly translated into the busy-ness of Youngstown's downtown. In the 1920s, the activity level downtown was high and would continue for another 50 years. This is looking south on Market Street:



By the 1950s, the steel business had grown so active that existing railroad facilities couldn't handle all of the business. So the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad in 1957 built a modern railroad yard between Campbell and Lowellville called Gateway Yard. By reconfiguring existing rail yards to feed it, Gateway could handle thousands more rail cars per day:



And the trains kept coming. At this location, shot from Center Street bridge, an eastbound Baltimore & Ohio train rumbles through. In addition to the B&O, the Erie, P&LE, New York Central, Pennsylvania and a Republic Steel intra-plant railroad traveled under the Center Street bridge. During World War II, more railroad cars passed under this bridge than under any other bridge in the world:



And the steel continued to flow, at greater volumes into the 1960s than any time in Youngstown's history. There was every reason to be optimistic about the future:









Youngstown's steel mills, such as the YS&T's Campbell Works, appeared to be permanent fixtures on the city's landscape in 1965. After all, how could something so monumental ever disappear?



In part two, we'll see...


"Save the planet. Move to the city." -- The Downtowner podcast

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Excellent thread, KJP.  My compliments.


Niles, Ohio published its Sesquicentennial History Album in 1976.  Pouring over those maps, I noted that every stretch of the Mahoning River from the center of Warren downstream to the Pennsylvania border had had some sort of mill on it at one time or another.  Names like the tin mill and the firebrick plant still lived on although the plants were gone.


What is peculiar is that the big integrated mills were built after the local bog iron and coal deposits had already played out.  Railroad rates were fixed by the government and it was just as  economical to make steel in the Mahoning Valley as anywhere else.  Then, sometime in the 1920s or 1930s, Ohio interests lost out.  The rates were changed to reflect to real costs and Youngstown was at a disadvantage.  It became that the best place to locate to be near raw materials and the markets was the South Shore of Lake Michigan.  The steel makers quit investing in the Youngstown Mills.  It really was not that long until the first big mill closing with the Republic Mill in 1960. 


Employee stockholders at Sheet and Tube were taken by the offer by LTV to buy out the company.  What the defense contractor really wanted was the newer plant that Sheet and Tube had built at Indiana Harbor.  In 1977, they surprised everybody with the largest plant closing in history.  They earned the pejoratives of "Liquidate, Terminate, and Vacate" or "Leave The Valley".


LTV tried another scummy gambit when they tried to foist the employees' and the retirees'  pension benefits off on the federal government in a forthcoming decade.  The retirees ended up losing their health care benefits, if I recall correctly. 

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Excellent work. Threads like this give you an appreciation of the rich histories found in our cities. Sadly, few Ohioans have much knowledge of their own state's history. I'm certainly learning quite a bit here. 

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Thanks to all for your comments. I spent an entire Sunday putting together months of photos I've been collecting, including some from own collections.


As for the Fogg painting of Center Street, I ran that through Photoshop to see what would happen. It turned that sky a very bland white, blue and just hint of tan. It lost all the drama, so I hit "undo" and posted it as is.

"Save the planet. Move to the city." -- The Downtowner podcast

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Looking at those older furnaces I recall pix of even older ones, where they still had men up on top, shoveling stuff in.  I can't imagine how they survived that work, given the heat and fumes coming from a furnance in blast.



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Just found this site. http://youngstownsteel.com


The information about Youngstown Sheet & Tube in 1950 was fascinating, as was this global ranking of Youngstown's steel production...


The Youngstown district, as described by American Iron and Steel Institute, includes Newton Falls, Warren, Niles, Girard, Hubbard, Youngstown, Struthers and Campbell on the Mahoning River in Ohio and Sharon, Farrell and New Castle on the Shenango River in Pennsylvania; it stretches about 35 miles east and west along these two rivers. During the years of World War II about 57,000 persons were employed in this district in steel plants of this and other companies and 219,000 were gain- fully employed and approximately the same numbers are now employed therein. This district makes about eleven per cent of all of the steel produced in the United States and produces more steel than Japan or France manufactured in their best years (Japan's top production was 9,600,000 tons, and the best year for France was 10,000,000 tons.)


Be sure to see this picture gallery:




But this pano of USS's Ohio Works is AWESOME. Click and scroll right.....



"Save the planet. Move to the city." -- The Downtowner podcast

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Added some new pictures/text of the housing developments built by Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.  I also added a picture of the YS&T building the last of four blast furnaces at its Campbell Works. Its fate, 64 years later, is shown in part two of this thread which I also update today:  http://www.urbanohio.com/forum2/index.php/topic,17136.0.html (HAPPY LABOR DAY!!)

"Save the planet. Move to the city." -- The Downtowner podcast

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An amazing update. I'm awestruck by what was, and more than a little sick over what was lost.


It's dismaying that politicians and money-manipulators continue to try to peddle the notion that a "services economy" or an "information economy" can take the place of all that. The purveyors of those scams are vultures picking at the bones of what made America a world power, enriching themselves in the short term at the expense of those displaced and disenfranchised by the looting of the country's industrial base. :cry:



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